One point of contention for early-stage contenders is the thought that attaining product-market fit can be a matter of education:
"They just don't yet realize the value of our product. They just need to understand how it solves their problems."
I've been thinking of these products that require education in a circumstance of “unknown demand”. It’s this unknown part that's the rub.
From a self-funding point of view, it's already enough work trying to garner eyeballs. To also require educating someone to understand why they need your product is asking a lot. Not impossible. Just a lot more work than resolving a pain people are already looking for solutions to but don't yet have a satisfying solution to. That's a job-to-be-done (JTBD).
The unknown situation reminds me a bit of As Seen on TV products.
Do people have an unknown appetite for blankets with sleeves? Sure.
People weren’t out in the streets demanding Snuggies, but with some absurd As Seen On TV ads, a quick few minutes of educating you on why your life sucks without ’em, it garnered the attention to get them flying off shelves.
But Snuggies weren’t fulfilling an inherent demand. People weren’t seeking them out. The demand was a bit artificial in that way. It's not to say it's not a successful business tactic, it's just not tapping into a "need". That self-driven internal need is what demand is all about.
Products that tend to get away with generating demand are more of the celebrity endorsement type—think fashion—or a brand that has total market influence (see Kanye or Apple).
And, importantly, think about the type of customers that buy an As Seen on TV, QVC, Sky Mall or Sharper Image product? Or what motivates a celebrity-endorsed product purchase? These end up being more impulse or uninformed buys.
(P.S. For the record, I own a Snuggie.)
We’re looking for that driven customer. The one who’s already looking for a solution. The one you built for that problem that they couldn’t find anywhere else. Those are the customers who will provide you the necessary insight into what's missing. To help you get to "market fit". They're the one that will love what resolves their true pain so much that they want their friends or colleagues to enjoy it too.
The Maker Way pic.twitter.com/VIA4OAhnxx— Corey Gwin (@corey_gwin) May 18, 2018
I’ll forever love this Seth Godin quote from This Is Marketing:
It doesn’t make any sense to make a key and then run around looking for a lock to open. The only productive solution is to find a lock and then fashion a key. It’s easier to make products and services for the customers you seek to serve than it is to find customers for your products and services.
As Godin guides, it’s more a matter of developing a relationship with a market in the early days while you also bring a story of change for the world they want to hear about and identify with. That’s “market”-ing.
It’s not identifying a problem someone has, building a product in isolation to solve it and then springing it on them hoping to hoodwink them into understanding why they need it. We don't like being told we're doing something wrong. We like being understood.
It’s more developing a relationship. Having a conversation. Gaining the insight you need to help you bring the right thing to market.
If you get too far ahead or detached from your relationship or true understanding of your market, then you’re an As Seen On TV product. You have to work with or truly have a handle on it to get the right solution built. It's why scratching your own itch can be so valuable in the early days, because you get it.
It's also what makes product demos or seminars so effective, particularly for B2B. You're having a dialog. You'll hear objections. You can get insight to learn what's needed. Effective sales are in fact relationship building. It's building trust to get the necessary insight to provide what they need.
I think we struggle to grasp all this because we discover products that feel sprung on us. We discover some unknown thing and we're like “This is genius!” It feels like it was an overnight success, but that product started somewhere small with a close understanding of some specific people's (a market) actual problems. It wasn't until they got "fit" that it was able to grow and thrive to the point that it could be discovered by you.
For more great reading on PMF, highly suggest Brian Balfour's Why Product Market Fit Isn't Enough.
April Dunford's thread on PMF is also a refreshing perspective on PMF.
Unpopular opinion: Product Market Fit isn't a thing. I'm not even sure it's a useful concept for startups.— April Dunford (@aprildunford) February 26, 2019